Belfast Telegraph

Celibacy is a fiction and Church must change its rules

A Catholic priest has an affair with a woman and it makes front page news. But the villain of the piece is not the hapless couple, rather the Church's code of celibacy. And that has nothing to do with virtue - and everything to do with money and misogyny

Parishioners show support outside St Peter’s Church earlier this week for Fr Ciaran Dallat
Parishioners show support outside St Peter’s Church earlier this week for Fr Ciaran Dallat
Fr Ciaran Dallat
Suzanne Breen

By Suzanne Breen

A woman whose only crime was to fall for the wrong man is heartbroken and humiliated. The man she loved has had the most intimate details of his life plastered all over the Press, his reputation now in ruins. The parishioners who adored him are left abandoned and confused. Behold the trail of human wreckage from the Catholic Church's cruel and callous code of compulsory priestly celibacy.

Fr Ciaran Dallat isn't the first - and won't be the last - priest to have lived a lie. The former Bishop of Galway, Eamon Casey, had a fling with an American divorcee and fathered a son.

Singing priest Fr Michael Cleary had two kids with his Dublin "housekeeper" Phyllis. Septuagenarian curate Fr Mossie Dillon fathered a child with his 31-year-old girlfriend, Madonna. Irish priests could win awards for preaching celibacy while not practising it.

Bishop Pat Buckley, the rebel cleric excommunicated by the Church after his Episcopal ordination outside its regulations, isn't shy in pointing out this hot-blooded history. "Just look at Irish surnames: McEntaggart, the son of the priest; MacAnespie, the son of the bishop; McNabb, the son of the abbot. Priests having sex is no new phenomenon."

But there is even greater duplicity involved than that of ordinary clerics. The head honchos in Rome know all about it, and always have done. They just choose not to let on.

Priests having sex is tolerated so long as it's kept quiet. The 11th and most important commandment is: Thou Shalt Not Get Caught.

Anyone who does is ruthlessly removed. Bishop Casey, once the star turn of the Church in Ireland, was shipped off to Ecuador like a convict. Now an old and broken man in his 80s, he lives out his last days in a Co Clare nursing home.

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Yet still the punishment goes on. He can appear on the edge of the altar with another priest, but he's forbidden from ever saying Mass himself. One wonders what far-flung hellhole the men of God may be planning for Fr Dallat.

Rome showcases celibacy as the Church's "brilliant jewel". In reality, it's a tawdry little fake. The inhumane insistence on clinging to the charade forces priests to live double lives. And what misery that entails for those caught up in the web of deceit.

For priests so tormented by betraying their vows that some even contemplate suicide. For their lovers, forever kept a dirty secret. But most of all for the children of such unions.

It's estimated around that around 1,000 people in Ireland and Britain are the sons and daughters of priests. They face the injustice of growing up fatherless.

Most never get to know who their dad is, or, if they do find out, it's only after he's dead. Any healing, or emotional closure, is impossible.

Pope Francis is hailed as a modernising man of the people. A pontiff with humanity and heart. Surely it is time for him to eradicate the cancer of compulsory celibacy? It's not like the folks in the pews give a damn.

The show of support in St Peter's for Fr Dallat proves the people don't oppose their priests having consensual sexual relationships. They no longer expect the men who serve them to don a cloak of loneliness and lovelessness as a part of the job.

Celibacy is unnatural and unhealthy. Demanding priests eschew the joys of sexual union with others is asking them to stamp out the most natural instinct in the world. And surely we want real flesh-and-blood human beings, not eunuchs, as priests?

There's no scriptural basis for celibacy, anyway. Jesus never once advised a life without sex. He ordained fishermen who shared their beds and lives with women. All the 12 apostles, bar John, were married.

Peter, the first Pope and the only one who actually knew Jesus, was a husband. In the second century, St Paul recommends that bishops have only one wife, suggesting that some holy men had harems. Hermits and monks practised celibacy, but it was considered an alternative lifestyle for oddballs.

"No sex" wasn't a universal rule for priests until the 12th century. And it was nothing to do with virtue and everything to do with money and misogyny.

Priests and bishops were leaving their land and money to their wives and children. The Church was being deprived of the power that inherited wealth brought. Celibate priests meant it could get its greedy hands on the lot.

A hatred of women had surfaced in early Christianity, but in the Middle Ages, misogyny really took hold. Women were widely regarded as wicked and unclean and any intimacy with them was seen as contaminating men.

And in spite of all the fancy theology formulated to justify celibacy since, it's this hatred of half of humanity which still lurks behind it.

Active homosexuality has long been more acceptable than heterosexuality with the movers and shakers in the Vatican. An army of bachelors is also easier for the hierarchy to control in day-to-day life.

Women can encourage disobedience. A married priest whom the bishop wants to transfer from Belfast to rural Fermanagh might say, "That's not on, the wife won't move."

But, ultimately, the Church must let priests marry if it wants to save itself. Once Ireland had so many priests it sent them off to the missions. Now, the catastrophic shortage of recruits means we will soon need to import them from the developing world.

Last year, only 13 student priests entered the seminary in Maynooth. Thirty years earlier, there were 171 ordinations in Ireland. The Church persists with the straitjacket of celibacy at its own peril.

It's time to remove the pretence that priests are any different from the people. They are as sexually active as the rest of us. They have straight sex, gay sex, they wear condoms, they take a chance, they get women pregnant, their women have babies, or abortions.

Some are one-woman men. Others are Jack the Lads, who boast that their clerical collars are "bird-catchers", securing them a woman in every parish.

Fr Dallat and his lover first did it on a trip to Medjugorje.

That would be comedy gold if it wasn't so pathetically sad. The entire situation exposes that priestly celibacy exists almost purely on paper. The sooner the Church is honest about that and changes the rules accordingly, the better.

And given the sexual depravity that has gone on within its ranks, a fifty-something balding bachelor having a bit of how's-your-father with a forty-something single woman is no cause for concern at all.

Belfast Telegraph


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